Rwandan wedding guest told to stop harassing dissidents in UK

Cahal Milmo
Friday 29 April 2011 00:00 BST

Support truly
independent journalism

Our mission is to deliver unbiased, fact-based reporting that holds power to account and exposes the truth.

Whether $5 or $50, every contribution counts.

Support us to deliver journalism without an agenda.

Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


MI5 has warned the Rwandan high commissioner to Britain to halt an alleged campaign of harassment against suspected critics of his country's government based in the UK.

Ernest Rwamucyo, who is due to attend today's royal wedding as Rwanda's envoy to London, was told by the Security Service that the UK's £83m aid to Rwanda could be cut unless the secret activities against members of the diaspora were halted. Expatriates claim that they have been threatened and intimidated by diplomatic officials.

Rwanda's top envoy is the latest among the 200 diplomatic invitees to this morning's ceremony at Westminster Abbey whose attendance is controversial. Several of them have since been uninvited by the Foreign Office and Clarence House.

Rwandan citizens living in Britain have told The Independent that officials based in the country's high commission, housed in a nondescript building in an unglamorous corner of central London, have been engaged in a campaign to contact members of the diaspora who have been named by informants as opponents of Paul Kagame, the east African state's increasingly autocratic President.

Mr Rwamucyo, a former UN policy adviser, is alleged to have been present at a meeting earlier this year in a branch of Nando's restaurant when a former woman soldier in the army which halted Rwanda's 1994 genocide, who now works as a nurse in London, claims she became concerned about her safety and was warned to halt her efforts to set up a community group for Rwandan war veterans.

Jeanne Umulisa, 46, an officer in the Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) army who was decorated for her role in stopping the slaughter of minority Tutsis by Hutu extremists, was interviewed by Scotland Yard detectives about the incident after contacting police. She told The Independent: "It was very clear to me that I was being threatened, that the embassy wanted me to stop organising my group and that if I failed to do so things might happen to me. Mr Rwamucyo was present during this conversation."

The Foreign Office said last night that it was aware of reports of harassment of the Rwandan diaspora. A spokeswoman said: "We take all such credible reports seriously. We do not comment on individual cases."

It is understood that the reports, which name several individuals connected with the Rwandan high commission, were investigated by the Security Service and judged to be sufficiently serious to merit a warning to Mr Rwamucyo that the activity should stop. MI5 officers were authorised to make it clear that the British Government, which has built strong ties with Rwanda and last year welcomed it into the Commonwealth, may revise its development aid to the country.

After more than a decade in which Rwanda's post-genocide government, led by former rebel commander Mr Kagame, was hailed for rebuilding a country shattered by the genocide, the regime is charged with being increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent both at home and abroad. Mr Kagame was re-elected last year with 93 per cent of the vote in an election in which observers said the opposition had been neutered.

Claims that schisms among Mr Kagame's former comrades have boiled over into violence appeared to gain credence last June when a former head of Rwandan intelligence, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who had left the country after suggestions he was building his own power base in the army, was the subject of an failed assassination attempt in South Africa. Several of the gunmen arrested after the shooting were Rwandan but no proof has been produced that it was sanctioned from Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

Supporters of Mr Kagame say Rwanda is a "special case" and Kigali's hard line on dissent is the result of concern that ethnic tensions which ignited the genocide should not be allowed to resurface. Rwandan intelligence has long sought to counter the influence of Hutu extremists based in Europe and the country continues to seek the extradition of suspected genocidaires, including four men living in Britain.

But expatriates say Rwanda's latest activity in Britain represents a departure by targeting individuals with no obvious links to Hutu opposition, or people who were close allies of the RPF. Ms Umulisa, a single mother who came to Britain in 2000 and lives in south London, said she attracted the interest of the high commission after she set up Wariyo Baka, a community group aimed at helping veterans of the 1994 war living in Britain with drug and alcohol problems.

A redoubtable figure who says she has become disillusioned with Mr Kagame's administration but strongly denies being a political opponent, she said: "I was told to come to a meeting at Nando's on Euston Road. A number of embassy people were present and they told me that by setting up [the group] I was acting against the country that I had fought for. They wanted me to close down the group... I told them I would do no such thing and the group has no political dimension – it is about Rwandans helping other Rwandans. I was taken aback by how aggressively they behaved."

Scotland Yard confirmed that it had dealt with a complaint from Ms Umulisa about the incident. A spokesman said: "Police were contacted with certain serious allegations. The complaint was dealt with by providing crime prevention advice."

A second Rwandan, who lives in the Midlands and does not wish to be named, said he was contacted by a friend who told him the high commission was concerned at information it had received that he had joined an opposition group. The man, a former businessman who funded the RPF during the early 1990s, said: "I was told I had to phone the high commission, that they want to talk to me. When I phoned them, they wanted to know 'Which side are you on?' I told them I was on no-one's side and my private thoughts were none of their business. They were acting like a dictatorial regime in Britain."

Mr Rwamucyo and the Rwandan high commission did not respond to requests for a response to the allegations made against him.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in